Are the concepts of “government” and “state” truly different in Turkey?

Certain people opposing the Erdoğan administration, do not want anyone to speak ill of the “state” and claim that “the government and state are different things.” Is this really the case? Are there people within the state that are independent from Erdoğan and despite him continue to oppose him?

Translation: Melissa Clissold

Hello, good day. Today I want to give a broadcast on a topic that I had promised I would touch on before. And that is this: Some of our viewers are disturbed by the fact that I define the ruling power, meaning The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling government as the state when I draw attention to or criticize some of the mistakes – they are mistakes in my opinion – that the political powers have done in terms of different topics concerning country politics. What’s interesting is this: They tell us that they are in agreement with the criticisms.  Yet that this is not the state, that this is Erdoğan’s government, Erdoğan’s administration, and that the state is something else.

They do not want anyone to speak ill of the state. There is an interesting understanding here. Actually, this understanding had a certain meaning, especially during the first years of the AKP rulership. Because during those dates, everyone will remember, certain approaches such as “They are the government but they will not be the ruling powers”, or “They are the ruling powers but they will never be the state” were dominant. Even if it is not a case of “Will they or won’t they?”,  the question “They managed to be the government but will they be able to be the state?” was asked, and people would then predict the answer to this question as being no.

Some of these people were opposing the AKP; but some of them were pessimistic people who were not that against the AKP. As well as being supporters of the AKP, the discussion was often about whether or not the state of Turkey – or to make things more understandable, the “deep state” – whether or not the “deep state” would allow the AKP. There was always an expectation that a coup would take place. There was an expectation that the military would intervene. It created crises over the headscarves of the wives of country leaders, AKP leaders, especially Abdullah Gül and Tayyip Erdoğan.

Officers, generals would always present political statements inappropriately in different situations and there was always an expectation. There were opinions such as “The military will not allow this after a certain point, the deep state will break eventually, and even if the AKP or Erdoğan want something, they will not be able to do whatever they choose, they will have to fit in, and if they are not obliged to fit in they will be discharged.” And there is an example of this from the time that Erdoğan was mayor.

Using a poem as an excuse, Erdoğan’s mayorship was taken away from him by he state. And there was always a discrimination afterwards between government-state. And this lasted for a while. Yet with the Ergenekon process, Erdoğan formed an alliance with Fethullah Gülen, before the deep state could eliminate him, he attempted to eliminate them and was quite successful. We all remember those processes.

They were incredibly harsh – cases, arrests, waves etc. And the Gülenist-AKP alliance managed to a large extent to reshape the system in Turkey. Yet when a dispute arose between them, when a conflict started between them – this conflict was essentially of course a disagreement regarding how much and who would control what within the government – this turned into a war. Later, Erdoğan managed to take out the Gülenists that wanted to eliminate him. And whilst doing this, he also brought certain groups or powers that he had liquidated or marginalized together with the Gülenists in the previous period, by his side. Something interesting happened. Erdoğan always looks as the one who is winning; but those losing change from time to time. Erdoğan’s allies and the losers are always changing.

When we look at it now, in Turkey, the state is Erdoğan. No one can claim that Erdoğan is solely the government. This has been the case for a long time. This was made a lot clearer especially in the last moments of the alliance with Gülenism. And it was made clearer still during the period of eliminating Gülenism. The state is Erdoğan. Therefore, no one can really claim “The government is doing this, but the state does not deserve any blame” regarding the things or policies that the ruling powers do or implement.

Because, within the structures that exist at the moment, especially after moving to the presidential system, there is no one present that is independent of Erdoğan, that is not controlled by Erdoğan, that exists despite of Erdoğan, there is especially no one who can stand in Erdoğan’s way, no structure, individual or power etc. that can stop him. Certain powers may be accredited to some institutions together with different conspiracy theories or speculations. This is a habit that exists in The Middle East and Turkey for a long time. These are conspiracy theories that are indispensable.

But when we look back, we can see that the state is indeed Erdoğan. A state independent of, despite Erdoğan does not exist. Of course this comes from a very old understanding that exists among Turks towards the “father state” concept, respect towards the state – and this does not solely exist among Turks, but exists among Sunni Islam as ulü’l-emre itaat, this is obedience of society and individual in the face of authority; it is their respect. Now, there are certain people who have been brought up with a tradition of respecting the state. But on the other hand, they are not satisfied or dislike those names that are prominent in the state. They are disturbed by them. So what’s the easy way to put this? “Our state is good, but those who are ruling over the state are bad people.” I don’t think that a state independent of these people is possible in anymore in Turkey.

There are plenty of examples that show us that it no longer the case, meaning the state and the government are the same thing. For example, those stating “The state is different, the government is different”, are trying to separate the state whilst blaming the ruling powers for not giving Ekrem İmamoğlu his mandate. But when you look at things you realize that one of the most powerful institutions within that state – The Supreme Election Committee (YSK) walks down the same line as Erdoğan – despite him. Or as you know the Constitutional Court before, especially during the AKP’s first years, was one of the most important institutions for the deep state. Yet it acts in line with Erdoğan – despite him. The fact that some of the recent decisions of the Constitutional Court may have not pleased Erdoğan is another issue; that is a new development and I think that is completely related to the atmosphere born out of March 31 and afterwards.

We must separate that. But if we were to go back, Ekrem İmamoğlu’s mandate not being given or the Mount Ida incidents, the resistance in Mount Ida, when it comes to environmental resistance, those opposing the ruling powers tend to separate the government and the state. But let’s say, as yesterday, when three People’s Democratic Party (HDP) mayors were dismissed from their positions and replaced by trustees, in this case they approve what’s happened. There’s an interesting situation here. Therefore, the state is always the same state. Together with Erdoğan, with the AKP powers, certain aspects of the state might have changed.

But, when we look at everything, certain reflexes, attitudes, approaches, authoritarianism, society being pushed to a secondary position, the veiling of the will of the people when it does not serve a purpose that it wants – moreover, these approaches were used towards the Welfare Party (RP) and the Virtue Party (FP); a different version of the approach “The people may have chosen them, but our state would never allow Sharia law etc.” exists today when it comes to the HDP, when it comes to the municipalities in Kurdish regions. Separatism and terrorism is taking the place of reactionism. But the perspective remains the same. There is no difference between the explanations that Süleyman Soylu made today, trying to legitimize the trustees, and the time when barriers were created aimed at RP members of parliament or mayors.

Therefore, no one should fool themselves. Everything is inter-bedded, the state, the government – and there is no longer the concept of government as we once knew and used it. The Council of Ministers does not even have a function. Nothing is clear. It is being stated that changes will be made but no one is really concerned anymore with the coming and going of people. We can see that the concept of government is being hollowed out in Turkey together with the presidential system. Therefore, any criticism that does not touch on, that does not criticize authoritarianism itself, that does not criticize the state in Turkey that imposes obedience – no matter what – has no value.

After all, Erdoğan has adopted a large part of the system that people thought he was going to change. And of course he made certain changes. But, when we look at the changes he has made and the issue of the division of power, we see that he has tried to keep most of the power and reduce control mechanisms as much as possible – in fact this was the shirt that was meant for Turkey to wear, that wanted to be imposed, after September 12 and the ’82. Constitution. We are experiencing the final stages of this phase at the moment. But this system that we follow, the presidential system etc. could be, but when it comes to perspective, we are not in such a different place than the perspective of September 12. Therefore, the line that the state is following is roughly the same one. There is no longer much meaning to the debate “Did the state adapt to fit Erdoğan, did Erdoğan adapt to fit the state? Because they are going down the same path together.

I want to give a very clear example of this. Yesterday Elmas Eren lost her life. Elmas Eren was one of the most important symbolic names among the Saturday Mothers in Turkey. Her son, Hayrettin Eren, was lost on the first days of September 12, and was taken into custody. Hayrettin Eren was someone I knew and also liked very much. He was older than me, and I really appreciated him as an older brother.His younger brother Faruk is a journalist who has been working with us for a very long time – you can see him next to his mother a right now.

He was most recently working at Cumhuriyet (newspaper). He was among those fired. Elmas Eren is one of the most shocking examples of the government in Turkey mistreating a citizen. The Saturday Mothers spent years in front of Galatasaray High-school asking about the fate of their children. They asked this for years. At certain times, the AKP government, when Erdoğan was prime minister, decided to listen to them. I was someone who followed this quite closely. And they did listen. In fact, Erdoğan, in that meeting I watched, had shown special attention to Elmas Eren. He was affected by her. Because Elmas Eren was a very impressive woman, and they were people from neighboring districts – Eren from Hasköy, and Erdoğan, Kasımpaşa. But later all these were forgotten. None of the promises were carried out. And most importantly, the meeting place for the protests of the Saturday Mothers that took place in front of Galatasary High-school was banned by Minister of Internal Affairs Süleyman Soylu using excuses such as terror etc. that was occurring that year.

And that shows us that the tradition is the same tradition. Continuity is important for the state. And when it comes to democracy in the state of The Republic of Turkey, as a phrase, it is not really a favored term. Therefore, I would like to say that the approach of criticizing Erdoğan without speaking ill of the state are meaningless. When you look who has taken up what position when it comes to the trustee incident, you can see that it is pretty mixed up. The Felicity Party (SP), when criticizing the Hüda-Par trustee incident, the Patriotic Party (VP), who claimed to be left at one point, are applauding the government.

Together with the Grand Unity Party (BBP) and the AKP. People from the AKP, who had claimed and complained for years that the state was narrowing the political arena, are now doing the same thing, the only thing that has changed are the words – so HDP has replaced the RP, or reactionism has replaced separatism. It’s actually quite interesting. Let’s not say interesting, a truly strange transformation is taking place, everything is becoming topsy-turvy.  But the one thing that isn’t changing is the state in Turkey and its tradition. The state protects its continuity. And citizens, whilst protecting the continuity of the state, are polarizing among themselves, are fighting, and are trying to maintain their existence in conflict. Yes, that is all I have to say. Good day.

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